I’ve been doing some interesting reading recently about women in the workplace – or, all too often, NOT in the workplace. I’ve distilled some snippets for your delectation, and offered some thoughts. This blog post runs longer than usual, so grab a beverage, pull up a chair, and give me a few minutes of your time.

From The Heroine’s Journey, by Maureen Murdock…

Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population but still only 18.3 percent of Congress… Even though women make up over 50 percent of management, professional, and related occupations, only 14.3 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers and 16.6 percent of Fortune 500 board directors are women. The percentage of individuals serving on the boards of nearly three thousand publicly traded companies is 88 percent men and 12 percent women.

From The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, by John Gerzema and Michael d’Antonio

HG+MD_62566% of respondents agree to the statement: “The world would be a better place if men thought more like women.” —Authors’ proprietary global survey of thirteen nations representing 65 percent of global GDP

A clear majority of people around the world are unhappy with the conduct of men, including 79 percent of people in Japan and South Korea and two-thirds of people in the United States, Indonesia, and Mexico—and the rate of dissatisfaction is nearly equal among men and women. Canadian men must be doing something right, but they are the anomaly in our data… Universally, it seemed that people had grown frustrated by a world dominated by codes of what they saw as traditionally masculine thinking and behavior: codes of control, competition, aggression, and black-and-white thinking that have contributed to many of the problems we face today, from wars and income inequality to reckless risk-taking and scandal.

In 2009, an outfit called Hedge Fund Research reported that funds run by women had for nine years straight significantly outperformed those run by men. A 2012 study by Credit Suisse revealed that over a six-year period, shares of large companies (those with a market capitalization over $10 billion) with women board members outperformed comparable companies with all-male boards by 26 percent.

From Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

By failing to negotiate that first salary, a woman (or less often, a man) stands to lose more than $500,000 by the time she hits sixty. So why don’t women pipe up? They’re socialized not to. Society really teaches young girls, from the day they are born, to think about the needs of others and not to think about their own needs. So they grow up not thinking about themselves or how to get what they want, but only thinking about others, really. In addition, women are also penalized for being too aggressive. When a man drives a hard bargain, he knows what he’s worth and by God, he’s going to get it. But when a woman does the same? She’s a pushy broad, and no one wants to work with her.

From Why Women Should Rule the World, by Dee Dee Myers

dee dee myersWhen women in positions of authority conform to traditional female stereotypes, they are too often perceived as “too soft” to be effective. And when they defy those norms, they are considered “too tough,” unnaturally masculine, out of sync. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Studies show that when they quit corporate jobs, women cite lack of opportunity and general dissatisfaction—not family responsibility—as the main reasons. Too often, women are not invited to meetings (or alternately interrupted and ignored if they are); left off of distribution lists; excluded from informal networks; or invited to events, like Saturday morning golf, that conflict with other obligations. These “micro-inequities” are like pebbles in the road that, taken together, become boulders.

From the Financial Times

In its UK survey, RSA found that the biggest hurdle among the barriers to delivering more “balanced” boards was “different life choices for women” (71 per cent) followed by dominant male boardroom culture (54 per cent). But when the question was changed, asking respondents to rate which barrier was most important, the “dominant male boardroom culture” overtook different life choices as first choice.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman carried out a global survey of 7,280 leaders last year across a range of organisations. Writing in Harvard Business Review: “Most stereotypes would have us believe that female leaders excel at “nurturing” competencies such as developing others and building relationships, and many might put exhibiting integrity and engaging in self-development in that category as well. And in all four cases our data concurred – women did score higher than men.

“But the women’s advantages were not at all confined to what are traditionally seen as women’s strengths. In fact, at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts – and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows.”

And of course, no such article would be complete without a reference to Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg.

sheryl sandbergA 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.

In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives—the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve.

Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. Ask a woman the same question and she will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she “worked really hard,” or “got lucky,” or “had help from others.” Men and women also differ when it comes to explaining failure. When a man fails, he points to factors like “didn’t study enough” or “not interested in the subject matter.” When a woman fails, she is more likely to believe it is due to an inherent lack of ability.

An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements. This difference has a huge ripple effect. Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that—and I’ll learn by doing it”.

Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.

I learned over time that while it was hard to shake feelings of self-doubt, I could understand that there was a distortion. I learned to undistort the distortion.

Legendary investor Warren Buffett has stated generously that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was competing with only half of the population.

My thoughts on the matter

There are still many cultural barriers to equality of opportunity to rise to the top, the biggest of which are:

– most male-run companies don’t appreciate the very measurable benefits of diversity, or if they do, they still lapse into appointing more “people like us”

– neither men nor women like women who they perceive as being MASCULINE in their approach to success and power (heard of the Heidi/Howard case study?)

– women don’t have enough role models of successful FEMININE women who have reached the top of their profession (if you know of any, please contact me to let me know – I’d love to talk to them!)

And yes, women are often our own worst enemies. As well as the cultural barriers, we also have hormonal and neurological challenges that make us likely to lack the confidence to put ourselves forward for promotions, or negotiate for better pay, or speak up in meetings. But on the plus side, once we are aware of those challenges, we can take steps to overcome them – such as being prepared to feel the fear and find the courage to do it anyway.

Why does equality even matter?

yin yangThe world would be a better, more peaceful place AND companies would be better run, if we had more women in positions of power. I’m not saying that women are better than men, or that women should try to be the same as men – but rather that the world needs a BALANCE between the masculine and the feminine. Note that I’m NOT using the words “male” and “female”, because I believe that everybody, regardless of biological gender, can contribute to a more balanced style of leadership (which, from the present male-dominated situation means moving towards more feminine leadership). In other words, the balance must be created on an individual level as well as a collective level.

In these fast-changing times we need transformational leadership rather than transactional leadership, and (per The Athena Doctrine) many of the qualities associated with transformational leadership were traditionally regarded as being on the feminine end of the spectrum. So an ambitious man would do well to look at how he can incorporate more of the feminine into his leadership style.

And to lighten the tone…

…and reward you for having read this far, a seasonal final word…

What would have happened if it had been three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men?

wisewomen1They would have asked directions,

arrived on time,

helped deliver the baby,

cleaned the stable,

made a casserole,

and brought practical gifts, and

there would be peace on earth.

But what they would have said when they left…?

“Did you see the sandals Mary was wearing with that gown?”

“That baby doesn’t look anything like Joseph!”

“Can you believe that they let all of those disgusting animals in the house?”

“I heard that Joseph isn’t even working right now!”

“And that donkey that they are riding has seen better days too!”

“Want to bet on how long it will take until you get your casserole dish back?”


And finally, finally….

“Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.”




  • Very good article it ties in well with the aims of the Women’s Equality Party
    whose mission statement starts:
    “Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue. When women fulfill their potential, everyone benefits. Equality means better politics, a more vibrant economy, a workforce that draws on the talents of the whole population and a society at ease with itself”

    worth looking at

  • Howdy Roz, Good article. Thank you. I agree 100% that a bright future is based on a balance between females and males. Yin and Yang if you will. (Yin and Yang and the balance of energy is a vast subject and misinterpreted by many people).

    It is important to acknowledge that there are many women in power all over the world. In business and government and private life. If I am not mistaken there are many more women in positions of power worldwide than there were in the past. So I think in that respect we are evolving for the better as a species.

    Another thing we can examine going forward is matriarchal societies.

    Not sure it is wise to say the problem is due to men or women though. It seems to me many of the worlds problems are due to People making poor decisions whether man or woman. Unfortunately not a few of them are in positions of power. Placing the blame for our troubles on men does not seem to promote equality to me or encourage mutually beneficial discourse. Our goal would seem to be the edification of humanity. I agree with Gary’s post above.

    By the way, the casserole dish is in the sink with the other dirty dishes. I hope to get around to washing it soon.

    Vive la difference!

    All the best Roz, cheers, Stephen

  • It is important to remember that we live in the most unique time in human history. Until the last hundred years or so western man’s chief struggle was putting food on the table and providing warmth in winter. We can intellectualize about the issues of gender equality only because we, here in western civilization, spend very little time in the raw struggle for survival. The “maleness” that so many people find objectionable (and I am one of them on occasion) must be kept in perspective; a perspective that recognizes that our world is filled with evil and often only brute strength is sufficient to deal with it. Forces of nature, forces of human error, and the forces of human evil have not disappeared and if history remains consistent we will see them reappear from time to time.
    Men are predisposed to crave challenge, to focus on the objective, to relentlessly pursue something, sometimes investing far more in the quest than they will gain in the attainment. Attempting to remove the masculinity out of the male is a theme that our culture seems to think is beneficial. Nothing could be further than the truth. Rather what is needed is a reinvigoration of the traditional cultural values of good manners, self-effacement, self-sacrifice, and the pragmatic principle of picking the right man, or woman, for the job.
    A verse from my favorite poet, Rudyard Kipling, may well sum up the danger that civilization places itself in should we not respect the gender differences that our creator placed in man and woman.
    “For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
    But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
    An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!”
    Many of those masculine attributes that are the subject of derision in polite society are downright essential when evil, in whatever form it confronts us, must be resisted and conquered. Even a cursory look at the newspaper is sufficient to remind us that our world is far from stable and that dangers still lurk. I feel confident that the next time that existential evil, on the of the order of Nazism, confronts us we will all be grateful for those obnoxious masculine attributes that help preserve the very fabric of our civilization.

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